The early years of primary school are critically important for childhood development. Learning through play, experimentation, classroom practice and social interaction, children begin to make sense of their world and their place within it.
A team of researchers led by Menzies School of Health Research have found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Northern Territory are missing out on the important early years of schooling due to hearing loss.
A world first study, The impact of hearing impairment on Aboriginal children’s school attendance in remote Northern Territory: a data linkage study recently published in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found that Aboriginal children with hearing impairment, including mild and unilateral hearing loss, attended four to six fewer school days than their peers with normal hearing.
According to Professor Steven Guthridge from Menzies' Centre for Child Development and Education, the consequences of low school attendance are serious and long lasting.
“Many studies have associated low school attendance rates with poor academic achievements and early school leaving, which are in turn associated with poorer social outcomes,” Prof Guthridge said.
The lead author, Menzies' Dr Jiunn-Yih Su and his colleagues argue that to improve Aboriginal students' school attendance, early detection of hearing impairment, including unilateral hearing loss is critical.
The researchers recommend schools and teachers are provided with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to support the learning and development of children with hearing impairment in the classroom.
"The silent way in which HI presents in young Aboriginal students can make it difficult to detect, especially for teachers who may be unfamiliar with the children."
"This, together with the high prevalence of OM from first months of life, supports regular surveillance of OM and hearing for all Aboriginal children living in remote communities."
"This should be provided during early childhood, when they are entering pre‐school, and/or their first year of compulsory full‐time education" Dr Su and his colleagues conclude.
The study is one of a series of studies conducted in the Hearing Loss in Kids (HeloKids) Project, funded by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The study has been featured prominently in the media, read the articles below to learn more: